5 March 2019
The short life of Andrea Dunbar was eventful to be sure – by the age of 15 she had given birth to a still-born child and went on to have three children by different fathers, lived in a women’s refuge and been the youngest writer to have a play debuted at the Royal Court Theatre. Having suffered from alcohol addiction, she had died from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 29.
New writers are often told to write from their own experience and Dunbar did just that with Rita, Sue and Bob Too – the tale of two teenage girls and their exploits with an older man.
Out of Joint had intended to mount a new production of the play in 2017 at the height of the sexual harassment controversies which hit the entertainment world hard. The subsequent allegations of misconduct against their artistic director, Max Stafford-Clark, created an hiatus, before the production went ahead under the direction of Kate Wasserberg. Ironically it was Stafford-Clark who had directed the original production. So, this tale of underage sex, casual sex, convenient sex in a world dominated and manipulated by men for their gratification may be seen as relevant now as it was in the early 1980, when, ironically again, the most powerful person in Britain was a woman!
Set in and around the Bradford that Dunbar knew, Rita and Sue, two 15-year old schoolgirls, babysit for Bob and Michelle – when he takes them home, Bob flirts with them and offers them sex – which they accept with alacrity. The girls have dreadful home lives and their escapades with Bob provide escapism, attention, but probably not much affection.
A simple and very effective set (designed by Tim Shortall) with car seats, two house fronts and a rather beautiful backdrop is all that is needed for this spare and carefully crafted play. The hilarity with which sex is performed in the front of a car is mixed with unease at what the audience is witnessing. The performers cope with the acrobatics so well – it is choreographed to perfection. John Askew is spot of as Bob, full of self-confidence and conscious of his masculinity – he’s the cheeky chappy who gets what he wants. Gemma Dobson fills Sue with a self-assuredness which belies the hurt she suffers at the hands of her Father and Alyce Liburd gives Rita a really vulnerable side which she demonstrates beautifully well with her wonderful facial expressions. The central trio are tremendous together.
Samantha Robinson is feisty as the loyal, trusting wife, Michelle, until such time as she can cope with Bob’s antics any longer. David Walker is excellent as Sue’s ghastly, drunk, brutish Father and Susan Mitchell is equally first-rate as her tired, yet resilient Mother.
The final showdown of all the characters – their worlds all falling apart is perfectly played.
This is a fine ensemble cast who have been guided with care and consideration by Kate Wasserberg who has served the author brilliantly well. It is a spare script, every word is carefully chosen and placed perfectly, there is no unnecessary text.
Rita, Sue & Bob Too is brimming with anger – Andrea Dunbar doesn’t shy away. Have things not moved on much since the 1980s?
A first-rate production of a thought-provoking and unsettling play – it’s good to see it revived!
RITA – ALYCE LIBURD
SUE – GEMMA DOBSON
BOB – JOHN ASKEW
MICHELLE – SAMANTHA ROBINSON
MOTHER – SUSAN MITCHELL
FATHER – DAVID WALKER
DIRECTOR – KATE WASSERBERG
DESIGNER – TIM SHORTALL
LIGHTING – JASON TAYLOR
SOUND – EMMA LAXTON
AN OUT OF JOINT PRODUCTION